After a short struggle I was able to free my right leg from the gluttonous mud. I checked my shoe was still firmly on my foot (it was) and trundled forward. Much like my energy, my determination to finish the race was being sapped from me with every step.
Six paces later and squelch. This time it was my left leg; trapped up to the knee. I needed to plant both hands on the ground – which were freezing cold thanks to being covered in my soaking wet gloves – in order to release my leg from the grip of the peat bog. I cursed that Great Hameldon Hill was home to the terminator of bog monsters – they will not sleep until I am dead.
Anyone that has seen (or indeed, heard) me try to race on the fells will know that it’s not my most favoured running environment. Whilst the thoughts in the paragraphs above about last Sunday’s race up and over Great Hameldon Hill may be a touch melodramatic, they were my honest feelings at the time.
It’s not the steep uphills that bother me. I love running uphill, no matter what the terrain. Obviously it’s tough going but I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of steep climbs. The inclement weather didn’t bother me too much either. Don’t get me wrong it would have been lovely to have some fine, warm weather as we assembled in the starting field, rather than resorting to jumping jacks in order to keep our toes from going numb. But there’s something about facing high winds and torrential rain I find extremely satisfying……and that post-race soak in a hot bath feels all the more rewarding.
No, it’s none of the above. For me, I hate what everybody else appears to love about fell running – the descent. The part that everyone else calls the ‘fun’ bit is the bit that cripples me with fear. Every divot I step in I believe will result in a sprained ankle. Every bog I fall down I think will be the one where I’ll break my arm in the fall. Every slippery rock I skate across brings with it the fear of a broken neck.
And everyone knows that no matter what your running ability, you’ll never do well in a fell race if you lack confidence.
As it turns out, I did finish Sunday’s race. And I did it without breaking any bones or even falling over. And despite my vocal protests on the way down I may have enjoyed it a teensy tiny bit. But I still shudder with fear of the thought of the next fell race. People ask me why I’m thinking about entering another one and my answer is always the same –
You don’t get better at things by avoiding them.
And I want to get better at fell running. I love climbing hills. I love being out in the elements. And oh, the views! It’s just the getting back down part I’m not a big fan of. But if I want to get better at it then I need to put the effort in. I need to do it more often and I need to just damn well stop whining about it.
There’s a phrase that’s used regularly amongst my crossfit coaches – work your weaknesses. If you’ve booked on a class that you later find out has your most hated movements in it, then you show up anyway and give it all you’ve got. If you don’t work at them, your weaknesses will always remain just that.
I just need to transfer this motto across to my running. In my quest to get even the most marginal of gains I’ve found a brilliant article written by Tom Addison for Inov-8. (I have a lot of love for tip number 8!). I’m sure you’ll find it a useful read.
I’m looking forward to getting out on the fells and trails a little more often and hopefully diminishing my fears. I’m really not looking forward to cleaning those damn fell shoes again.